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Leeza Gibbons Makes a Difference

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This Oscar Sunday, Leeza Gibbons is joining forces with Olivia Newton John and David Foster to host a star studded event called "A Night to Make a Difference." This isn't just any glitzy Oscar party though; this is a "party with a purpose."

Leeza Gibbons

Benefiting the Leeza Gibbons Memory Foundation and Olivia Newton John's Cancer and Wellness Center, this event will bring will bring together stars like Jessica Biel, Hilary Duff, and Cindy Crawford to celebrate the worlds of celebrity and charity.

When Leeza, the mother of three children ages 11, 17, and 20, lost her beloved mother to Alzheimer's, she felt inspired to help other families cope with the devastation of loss and day to day struggle of dealing with a sick family member. Momlogic sat down with Leeza to discuss the foundation, and life as a Hollywood mom:

What kind of challenges did you face while seeking support to care for your mother who was suffering from Alzheimer's disease?
The same hurdles that any family has to jump over when they get a diagnosis of chronic illness. Families start to unravel -- no matter how close you are and how many resources you have -- when someone gets sick, people get fearful and family members begin to feel isolated. And that began to happen with ours. With a disease like Alzheimer's, the first challenge is facing the truth about your loss and beginning to grieve the decades ahead. I think the challenge is really just knowing that your happily-ever-after has been upended.

Tell us a little bit about the Leeza Gibbon's Memory Foundation.
We created what we had wished we had had. This environment was modeled after my mom's kitchen: the doors are always open and the coffee's always on. We realized that caregivers are faltering and people are getting sick faster -- and we felt we could make a difference in a lot of people's lives. We're mostly an oasis for sisters, daughters, wives and loved ones [of people suffering with a chronic illness] to gather strength and get a new reality. The caregiver burden is the same as the diagnosis, so we created a group that provides empowerment, energy and ease. Our programs are very wide in reach -- everything from a drum circle to laughter humor therapy; we do a lot of reiki, we have movie nights and scrapbooking and things called "memory television."

How did losing your mother affect you as a mother?
The sun never shines quite as brightly when you lose your mom. Our mothers are our comfort, our north stars. Without them, we have a hard time figuring out who we are. It's interesting because I began to think about how my kids would experience my own death -- and I began to tell them things. I so encourage families to discuss death before things become a crisis, to communicate everything -- so you can have your "marching orders" and cling together instead of fall apart.

How did you come up with the idea to use the Oscars as an opportunity to put newly jobless Angelenos to work?
My inspiration was having covered the Academy Awards for so many years; I know the power of global stage. My wish was to make a difference. There is a fairy dust that goes with the Oscars and I wanted to take that and go wider. I wanted to use my celebrity as an inspiration to encourage people to make a change in our own lives and in the world. Individual action can create massive change. With the state of the world and economy right now, we're ripe for change right now. So I thought, 'let's take celebrities and make them ambassadors of change.' Not everyone can be Brangelina and do what they do, but we can make a difference as non-violent caring people and this was just an opportunity to help on a local level.

What is an "Ambassador of Change" and who are some of the Hollywood celebrity philanthropists that you will be honoring?
An "Ambassador of Change" is someone that leads by example -- who dedicates themselves to change. I was so impressed with the (philanthropic) work of Jessica Biel and Hillary Duff- they've decided that their advocacy is meaningful and recognized that their voice can be a powerful influence. They don't have to do it -- but they do. You know what I love? You look at Cookie Johnson, Fran Drescher, Holly Robinson Peete -- all these woman who have taken what has been bad news and pushed to do something better --they are so inclusive and help the community and there's no competition, they are just so invested in helping others and reaching out. It's really awesome.

You've covered the red carpet for years... Been there done that... As a mom, what's your favorite way to spend Oscar night?
After covering the Oscars for 16 years, the first year I didn't have to go, I thought I would watch the pre-show and get antsy and jealous and that I'd want to be there. But I didn't. I loved doing it and I loved not doing it. It was about change and there was a time and season for it. Now, my favorite way to watch it is in my robe and slippers with a glass of wine.

How hard is it to go from Leeza, mom of three, to Leeza at a big Hollywood event?
It's effortless because it's all me. I have never been great at compartmentalizing. But I've got to give it to my kids. They've been incredibly generous and accommodating when it comes to the work that I do. And I try to include them in it all so they understand. I love what I do and am proud. I think parents sometimes, and I'm guilty of it too, but they don't let their kids in on how much extra effort it takes to be successful -- how much integrity it takes. And I think that instead of feeling guilty, we need to include them and set an example and be proud of how hard we work -- essentially for them.

Was there ever a time in your life you dealt with "mom guilt?"
It's a real universal emotion. There are some days that I feel like I get it right but there are days I struggle ...The expectation is that mom should be able to conquer, lead, nurture, make the money and kiss the boo boos, all at the same time and we don't ask that much of men -- even still! I think most moms work because they have to, but most moms get some value out of work -- if your family needs an income and you're a mom, then you shouldn't feel guilty. I have been so stressed out on this event, I've been exhausted short-tempered and I don't want to be anymore. On the other hand, I know that my kids support me and I know it's important to them too. Luckily, they cut me a lot of slack and it's easier now that they're older. In many ways, I find being home for your kids when they're older even more important then when they're little, because the outside pressure with friends and drugs is more of an issue.

What's the secret to getting ready for a big event with three kids at home?
I used to laugh because I swear it's true, I'd go to these things -- on camera things -- and I'd be at the mirror, putting my individual eyelashes on and my kids would sit and watch me. And I've always joked that my boys could probably do my eyelashes for me by now.

Any advice for fellow red-carpet maven Nancy O'Dell for her new role on "Dancing with the Stars?"
Nancy called me before she said yes. Her primary concern was "if I don't have enough time with my daughter I'll go crazy." But I told her, you're the only one who knows how much time you'll have and how you will do it all. I told her to think what this will show her daughter. Doing it represents being courageous and taking risks ... She's lucky she has a wonderfully supportive husband and so, in a project like this; share what you're going through, share what you know. Show your vulnerability. I think that the two "f words" I wish for Nancy are flexibility and forgiveness -- those two words have helped to define me.

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38 comments so far | Post a comment now
Paul February 21, 2009, 7:13 PM

I would like to voice & share my support for Leeza & in this amazing & important Oscar Night event in support of the Leeza Gibbons Memory Foundation/Leeza’s Place & all the other great causes & charities. I am so proud of you Leeza in how you are leading by example & showing the world that we all can make a difference. “Good Luck!” & enjoy your Oscar Night at Mr. Chow! Thank you Leeza…

Best Wishes,…Paul ;-)

Carol D. O'Dell  February 22, 2009, 3:35 PM

I enjoyed this interview with Leeza, and as a sandwich generation mom myself, (I have three girls and my mom had Alzheimer’s), I love her message that she’s using her “voice” in the media to share the message of how much our mom’s mean to us, and that Alzheimer’s can never take their memories—all they taught us will live on.

~Carol D. O’Dell
Author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir
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